Short but Oh So Sweet
Although brief, the local strawberry season is long on flavor
From the May 2014 issue
Thirty-four years ago, Patty Parsons married into a family with Sussex County roots. Not only did the Wilmington native need to get better acquainted with her downstate in-laws, but she was also introduced to an unfamiliar dish that appeared at most family get-togethers: strawberry-pretzel salad.
Although there are variations, the dish usually includes gelatin, whipped cream and cream cheese. “I thought it was dessert, and they thought it was a side dish,” recalls Parsons, who now lives in Millsboro. As a compromise, she puts it on a buffet so diners can choose when to spoon it on their plate. (At The Georgia House, which has locations in Selbyville, Millsboro and Milford, the dish is listed as a side and not a salad. “It’s very popular,” says general manager Kristal Hastings.)
Many recipes call for frozen strawberries, but when the season is ripe — from about the middle of May to mid-June — many opt for fresh. And no wonder. Nothing says summer like a fat strawberry, oozing juice and colored red all the way through.
Sussex County Sensation
In coastal Delaware, chicken is a signature dish
Sussex County native Juan Hernandez knows a thing or two about poultry, one of the state’s most lucrative industries. His father has long worked in a chicken plant, and his mother worked at Georgia House in Millsboro, a down-home restaurant that serves buttermilk-fried chicken and chicken basted with barbecue sauce.
Hernandez grew up in the Long Neck area, and on Sundays the family often gathered for backyard barbecues. While the adults preferred grilled seafood, young Juan gravitated toward chicken and steak. “It’s one of the best memories that I have,” he says of those get-togethers. He couldn’t wait to grow up and be in charge of cooking the meat.
He’s achieved that goal many times over. Hernandez, who was 14 when he started washing dishes at Georgia House, has worked at the Summer House, Bethany Blues and The Pickled Pig Pub.
Currently, he’s the executive chef at Salt Air Restaurant & Bar in Rehoboth Beach. “We have a beach picnic theme,” he says. “It’s farm to table.”
Roast chicken, which you can eat hot or cold, has been a Salt Air staple since Jonathan Spivak opened the restaurant in 2009. That remained true after the Big Fish Restaurant Group purchased the business in 2012.
Hernandez brines the bird for 24 hours, a technique that makes the meat tender.
Salt Air serves this dish with grits. Follow the grits recipe of your choice, or serve the chicken with potatoes or fresh corn on the cob.
Getting a Taste of Spring
Mediterranean lamb dish showcases seasonal flavors and a mix of local and exotic ingredients
By May, chefs and foodies are celebrating the return of local vegetables, particularly asparagus, peas and tender lettuces. When it comes to meat, lamb is historically linked with the season. In Greece, for instance, lamb is the main attraction of the Easter feast. It’s also the star of the country’s cuisine.
The spring bounty delights Gary Papp, who with wife Lorraine owns Palate Bistro & Catering. “I embrace what my local growers are bringing to me,” he says.
Lately, he’s been experimenting with Middle Eastern spices and vegetarian dishes. Lamb meatballs with lemon-sumac yogurt — a Greek-inspired dish using fresh products — is a prime example.
At work or home, it helps to have two chefs in the kitchen. Lorraine is a celebrated pastry chef. The couple met when she hired Gary to be the sous chef at a restaurant in Bucks County, Pa. A friendship turned into a romance, and they catered their own wedding in 1990.
In 1994, friend John Donato and his partner, Twain Gonzales, were getting ready to open The Buttery and hired the Papps. The couple moved to the beach and both worked at the restaurant. In 2008, they left to open Essential Chef, which offered catering and consulting services. Gary also taught culinary classes. In 2016, they opened Palate in a Route 1 shopping center between Lewes and Rehoboth.
This recipe demonstrates that the Papps don’t skip steps. Home chefs can make all the components or just a few. You’ll find sumac, a spice common in Middle Eastern cuisine, at Jerusalem International Grocery in the Tenley Court shopping center on Route 1 near Midway. Pea shoots are often available in Asian markets, or you can substitute baby spinach.